Benson Henderson left the UFC to join Bellator MMA in what he deemed greener pastures and was rewarded with an immediate shot a the welterweight title. That fight didn't go his way, succumbing to Andrey Koreshkov in a decision loss.
But for his second bout in Bellator, the promotion was ready to offer him a shot at the lightweight title and champion Michael Chandler.
"They asked me if I wanted to sit and wait for Michael Chandler’s hand to heal up or if I wanted to fight before then. I think everyone knows my answers to that, Henderson told Sports Illustrated by phone on Monday. "I’m a fighter. The matchmaker for Bellator laughed and said ‘I knew what you were going to say.’ I’m a fighter, that’s what I do. I have a pretty small window of opportunity in which to pursue my career. As a journalist, people can report, write articles, interview people into your 40s, into your 50s, into your 60s even. Me as a professional athlete, as a fighter, I can do my job for only so many years. I have a small window of opportunity and I want to take advantage of that window. I want to fight as much as possible, I want to be active, I want to prove how great I am. I can’t just talk about it, I have to prove it. So I want to be in there, I want to be inside that cage so I can prove it as much as possible each and every time I go in that cage."
Instead of waiting for Chandler's hand to heal, Henderson elected to fight and worked with Bellator to find an opponent, and in stepped former featherweight champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire for a fight in Anaheim on August 26th at Bellator 160.
"I said I want to fight someone, let’s set something up, let’s get something big. I want to get in there again," Henderson said. "So they threw a couple names around. I think Patricio said no at first, but I think they ended up having to guarantee or say that he gets a title shot at 155 also. So whoever wins gets a title shot at 155. Then after he heard that he then agreed to take the fight."
This becomes a super fight between former champions in two different weight classes with a title shot on the line. The angle for Henderson if he wins is his pursuit of Bellator gold as a former UFC champion. Freire's storyline if he were to get a title shot would be seeking revenge for his brother Patricky, who was defeated by Chandler for the vacant belt in June.
Henderson isn't locking himself into the lightweight division though, maintaining that he will pursue big fights regardless of weight class.
"Bellator signed me for big fights. I was signed for big fights," Henderson said. "So whether it’s at 170 or 155, I’m down for either one. Right now it’s 155, a superfight against Patricio, former ‘45 pound champion meeting a former lightweight champion. I think it’s a fight a lot of fans had, the fantasy match ups. With these promotions, co-promoting and having these guys fight. I think it’s kind of one of those fights.
"As far as 170 or 155, absolutely I’m here for big fights. That’s the reason I was signed and I’m going to live up to that."
There has been some debate about whether "big fights" need to be title fights, or if big marketable names drawing huge viewership numbers can be big fights. To Henderson, fighting for a title will always be the big fight.
"You always want to fight for a belt, for me personally as a fighter but I don’t want to speak for everybody. For me personally as a fighter, I always want to fight for the belt, defend the belt, go get the belt. That is the symbol that signifies you being the best fighter on the planet. So for me, yes, I always want to fight for the belt," Henderson said.
But that doesn’t necessarily limit you to title fights being big fights. They set up superfights for a reason, to have big fights to have a big draw. So for me, against Patricio, I think it’s going to be a super tough fight. I think he’s a former world champion for a reason. He held the belt for a while. There was a reason he was that man. There is a lot of big power in his right hand. We’ll see how it transitions over at 155, he had big power at 145 but you got to transition over to 155. It’s my job to go out there and get the job done and leave the cage with my hand raised."